I have only just really properly discovered the American poet Stephen Dunn. Born in 1939, he has written 15 collections, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

From what I have read so far, I love the acuteness of his poems, and their emotional immediacy. Fearless in terms of tackling ‘big’ emotions, he tackles the most painful, and real, of life events:

From Sweetness (Staying Alive, Neil Astley (ed), Bloodaxe 2002, p.121):

‘Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear

one more friend

waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason…’

‘…Tonight a friend called to say his lover

was killed in a car

he was driving.’

Yet this is not a downcast or maudlin poem, more an acknowledgement of how life is, the cliches but truisms of ups and downs, positives and negatives, all of which reflect the fact of being alive, and of living:

‘I acknowledge there is no sweetness

that doesn’t leave a stain,

no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet…’

I love Dunn’s ending note, a promise of sorts that it may have been worth it, after all:

‘Often a sweetness comes

as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive…’

‘…As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road

it’s travelled

to come so far, to taste so good.’

CQ

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